What Is Dynamic Stretching?
This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on 04/18/23
Have you ever been confused or lost about the best way to get warmed up for a workout? What’s the best way to prepare your muscles, joints, heart, and lungs for a workout? Should you stretch? Is before or after better? What even is dynamic stretching definition?
What is the definition of dynamic stretching?
Whether you’re gearing up for a run, bike ride, weighted strength training session, or any other fitness activity, you will want your muscles and joints limbered up and ready to perform. But what is dynamic stretching and how is it beneficial? Dynamic stretching is a great way to prepare your muscles, loosen your joints, improve your flexibility and range of motion, and improve blood flow to make the most of your workout.
Dynamic stretching involves active movements, preferably similar to the activity you are about to do, that help prepare your muscles and tissues for more intense athletic training. This active stretching allows you to gradually move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion, raise your core body temperature, improve blood flow to get oxygen to your muscles, and prime your muscles, joints, and other tissues for higher-level activity. Dynamic stretching is a very functional and useful way to get ready to move and move quickly.
What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?
There are differences in static vs. dynamic stretching in terms of how they are performed, when it may be best to perform them, and their potential outcomes and benefits.
On one hand, dynamic stretching is an active movement where a joint and muscle are moved through their full range of motion in a controlled manner. Dynamic stretching exercises should be tailored to the activity you are about to perform as they are useful for priming your muscles and joints for activity. These stretches are also best performed prior to working out as part of a complete and thorough warm-up as well as to improve blood flow. Dynamic stretches can also be used as part of a cool-down to gradually bring your core temperature down while also giving your muscles the little bit of stretch they may need after an intense workout, all while improving your body’s dynamic flexibility.
Static stretches, on the other hand, are a stretch position that is held for a period of time. Once you get your body in the position that stretches a muscle, it is typically held for anywhere from 10 seconds to 1 minute, or even longer, depending on the purpose of the static stretch. In this way, static stretching is best used to lengthen a muscle over the joints it crosses. Static stretching is best performed after a workout as a way to help relax and return your body to a more rested state.
Why is dynamic stretching important?
Dynamic stretching is important to prepare and prime the muscle group and joints for any physical activity. It can boost athletic performance, increase blood flow, and potentially improve muscle performance. This is an integral component of any warm-up for anyone regardless of fitness or activity level. Additional benefits of dynamic stretching include decreased joint stiffness, improved flexibility, and increased range of motion.
Another potential benefit of dynamic stretching exercises is decreasing injury risk. As part of a thorough and complete warm-up, especially one that is tailored more specifically to the activity you are about to do, dynamic stretching naturally warms up the joints and muscles you are about to use and gradually ramps up the more active you are about to do. Setting aside this time to gradually introduce larger and larger ranges of movement while steadily increasing blood flow means that your body is less likely to sustain an injury. Furthermore, utilizing dynamic stretching as part of a cool-down may mitigate any muscle soreness you may experience after an exertional effort.
What are examples of dynamic stretching?
Now you know the benefits and importance of a before any . To get started with your own , consider these:
1. Arm circles
Arm circles are a great way to warm up your shoulders. Start standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms outstretched to your sides at shoulder height. Move them in circles, first forward for 10-20 rounds, and then backward for an additional 10-20 rounds. You can make small arm circles or bigger arm circles depending on your comfort, or start small and work your way to bigger circles.
2. Trunk rotations and twists
Trunk rotations or trunk twists help to mobilize, stretch, and move your upper back. Start standing with your arms outstretched to your sides at shoulder height, and use your arms to generate some momentum to twist your upper body from side to side. Move from side to side for 10-20 rounds.
3. Leg swing
Leg swings are useful to warm up the , hip flexors, hamstrings, and glutes. Find a place to stand where you can lightly hold on to a wall, fence, car, or post/pole of some sort for balance. Standing on just your right leg, swing your left leg forward and backward, letting the momentum you are creating move your leg freely. You can also swing your leg from side to side, crossing your swinging leg in front of you. Perform 10-20 rounds of each, and repeat on the other leg.
4. High Knee
High knees are a great way to warm up many muscles in your lower body. With a clear path in front of you, quickly drive one knee up into the air and then switch legs back and forth in a quick, marching-like manner. If this is too much impact for you, you can drive one knee up, grabbing the front of your shin with your arms, and give that leg a quick hug. Then place that foot back down and repeat with the other leg. You’ll want to do this for about 30 seconds.
Walking lunges with a twist is a great full lower body warm-up. Make sure you have a clear path in front of you. Take a large step forward, and bend both your knees so that you are lowering yourself to the ground. Hovering near the ground here, rotate your torso right and left, and then stand back up, moving forward to take another large step forward, this time with your other leg. Keep repeating this alternating pattern until you have done about 10 rounds on each leg.
How can physical therapy help?
Dynamic stretching can be an important component of a proper warm-up to enhance your physical performance during the activity. If you’re comparing occupational vs physical therapy, physical therapy has many benefits here. These stretches help increase blood flow and improve muscle extensibility. They can also decrease joint stiffness, decrease soreness during and after working out, and help decrease injury risk. A physical therapist is well-versed in all the different ways you can incorporate dynamic stretching into your routine. They will help you craft, design, and implement a routine that is perfect for you. A physical therapist will not only be able to explain how and when dynamic stretching would be a useful adjunct to your warm-up or recovery plan, but will also be able to educate you on other recovery tactics, such as ice bath benefits, that are tailored to you, your personal limitations, or pains, and your goals for fitness, health, and wellness. Reach out to your physical therapist to learn more about how to maximize your recovery and reach your goals. Find a clinic near you and get in touch with us today!
Article By: Anne Diaz-Arrastia, PT, DPT, OCS
Anne Diaz-Arrastia, PT, DPT, OCS began her physical therapy career 5 years ago. Anne loves working with the active sports population and believes in the importance of providing individualized care that is specific to the activity and sport her patients love. She currently specializes in sports, orthopedics, vestibular, and concussion management. Anne enjoys working with patients of all activity levels and ages to help them reach their goals of living life just the way they envision. She currently treats patients at The Training Room of Haddonfield in Haddonfield, NJ.
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